A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

IMMIGRATION HISTORY

Jane and Bob Aberson weren't forced to come to this country because of political strife or poverty back home. In fact, they lived a very privileged life in Holland; it just wasn't the type of life they wanted. They came to Canada on an adventure and a whim.

The first main wave of Dutch immigrants to Canada were drawn by the dream of a traditional way of life. In the last decade of the 19th century, the Netherlands was in the middle of a revolution. A predominantly rural and agricultural society had been transformed into an urban, industrial one. Not everyone was willing to accept this "better way of life." The changes were immense, rapid and to some, disturbing. There were economic disparities between classes of people, and rampant poverty, crime, industrial pollution and exploitation. The alternative was to head for the frontiers of North America.(1) When cheap arable land became scarce in the United States by the 1880s, the Dutch and Dutch Americans turned to Canada as the "Last Best West."(2)

During this first wave between 1890-1914, Dutch immigrants to the Canadian West were directed to homesteads and railway lands to help cultivate and open the prairies. The majority of the immigrants were scattered across the West as farmhands, farmers, or ranch owners. They established ethnic settlements such as New Nijverdal (now Monarch) and Neerlandia in Alberta, and Edam in Saskatchewan. Concentrated settlements did occur, particularly around Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, which had the largest Dutch community in Canada prior to WWI.(3)

In 1917 the Department of Immigration and Colonization was created with the expectation that immigration would reach new heights in the post-war period. Canada was growing and needed suitable immigrants.(4) In was during this time that the Abersons came, with the second wave of Dutch immigration between 1920-1930. Canadian immigration agents went to Europe with glowing descriptions of free or cheap land, jobs and success guaranteed for the hardworking. (5)Bob and Jane Aberson saw a large billboard with a picture of a farm in Canada. As Jane remembered in her book of columns, "It was a beautiful poster, a golden grain field waving in the breeze, a young farmer in a white shirt behind a beautiful set of horses. A young wife with a baby in her arms bringing a basket of goodies to the field. It was extremely tempting."(6)

Dutch immigrants eagerly took up these opportunities in Canada, particularly in Ontario and the western provinces. During this period, significant numbers of Dutch settled in southern and southwestern Ontario, especially in Toronto. Between 1890 and 1930, an estimated 25,000 Dutch or Dutch Americans entered Canada.(7)

The Depression and WWII curtailed Dutch immigration to Canada. In 1947 emigration from the Netherlands became a kind of fever or compulsion that could not be restrained.(8) Tens of thousands of Dutch began to flee from their war-devastated homeland. Initially the immigrants were mostly from the agricultural sector, but by the mid-1950s, skilled workers and professionals were also coming in significant numbers. Ontario was the most popular destination, followed by Alberta, British Columbia and the Maritimes. By the late 1960s, an estimated 150,000 Dutch immigrants had arrived. Today over 358,000 Dutch have made Canada home.(9)

Footnotes:
1,4,5,8,10,11,12,13,15,16,17,18
A Bittersweet Land, The Dutch Experience in Canada, 1890-1980, by Herman Ganzevoort
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1988).

2,3,7,9,14
The Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

6
From the Prairies with Hope, by Jane L. Aberson
(Canadian Plains Research Centre, Regina, 1991).


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